Obama to make case for gun control in speech near Newtown
(CNN) — President Barack Obama is poised to make another impassioned pitch for gun control Monday as he travels to Hartford, Connecticut, not far from the site of the massacre that left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
His comments come as the Senate is expected to begin debate as early as this week over proposed firearm legislation.
“On the eve of Senate consideration of gun safety proposals the President will speak, as he did at the State of the Union, about the obligations the nation has to children lost in Newtown and other victims of gun violence to act on these proposals,” a White House official said.
Obama will speak in the early evening at the University of Hartford’s sport center. With the campus beginning to be locked down for security, one man with a large banner advocating the president’s gun control proposals told CNN he came all the way from Michigan to show his support.
The Senate is scheduled to soon begin voting on gun control measures, but Democratic sources admit that the gun bill as currently written does not have the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.
Among its provisions, the bill expands the background check system to include all private transactions, including those at gun shows, and enacts tougher laws on gun trafficking, as well.
The powerful National Rifle Association is staunchly opposed to the bill. It favors improving the system to include more data on those with a history of mental health issues but fears that a broader expansion or records of sales could violate Second Amendment rights and lead to further restrictions.
A group of 13 Republican senators have already vowed to block the bill, saying the gun legislation will “infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms.”
Sen. John McCain of Arizona chided his fellow Republicans Sunday, questioning their insistence on placing a roadblock in the debate.
“I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand,” Arizona’s McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
McCain said his decision on whether to support the bill would hang on a multitude of questions.
“This is another reason why we need to go to the floor. Everybody wants the same goal, and that is to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals and people who are mentally disabled. And background checks are being conducted. Are they sufficient? Are there ways we can improve those? Then I think that’s a subject the American people and the Congress could be helped by if we have a vigorous discussion,” he said.
White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer argued Sunday that some Senate Republicans who oppose the bill are simply forgetting the tragedy that struck Sandy Hook nearly four months ago.
“Now that the cameras are off, and they’re not forced to look the Newtown families in the face, now they want to make it harder, and filibuster it,” he said on ABC.
Proponents of the bill, including Obama, argue the law would not be designed to take away peoples’ guns or chisel away at their rights.
“Background checks is the sweet spot,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It doesn’t interfere with the legitimate gun owner’s right to bear arms. But at the same time makes sure, that felons, mentally ill people and spousal abusers can’t get guns. Every American’s for that, whether you’re a gun owner or not.”
In fact, recent polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans favor making a change to the background check system. According to a Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday, 91% of voters across the country support universal background checks. That follows other polls in the past couple of months that show support ranging from 83% to 92%.
Some states have gone ahead and passed their own gun control measures, including Connecticut, which expanded its background check system on Thursday among other tough gun laws. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre blasted the new firearm restrictions, saying the only people who will follow the new regulations are law-abiding gun owners, not criminals.
“I think the problem with what Connecticut did is the criminals, the drug dealers, the people that are going to do horror and terror, they aren’t going to cooperate,” LaPierre said Thursday on Fox News. “I mean, all you’re doing is making the law books bigger for the law-abiding people.”
On the federal level, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is concerned that the Senate bill could lead to record keeping of gun owners and gun sales. He has been in talks with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, about a compromise, but with nothing promising on the horizon, Democrats have turned to another Republican, Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, according to sources familiar with the talks.
A Senate Democratic leadership aide said they “feel positive” about the prospects of brokering a deal that would include a background check provision, but “it’s not done and could still fall apart.” If a deal is reached, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will move quickly to include new language in the bill, the aide said.
An aide to Toomey confirmed the senator is talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. However, the aide also cautioned they may not be as close to a deal as Democratic aides are suggesting.
Meanwhile, an aide to Coburn insists that he’s still involved in the process. When asked if Toomey’s involvement means Coburn is out, the aide said, “Not at all. He’s still hopeful they can reach an agreement.”
Obama’s speech Monday night will be the latest in the White House’s ongoing push for Congress to pass gun legislation in the wake of a spate of mass shootings last year, including the Newtown massacre and the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Vice President Joe Biden, who spearheaded a task force on coming up with recommendations for Congress, will deliver remarks Tuesday, further putting pressure on Capitol Hill as lawmakers return from, their two-week recess.
While there’s strong support for background checks among the public, polls still show diminished support for gun control in general since the Newtown shooting. Nodding to those polls in a speech on March 29, Obama acknowledged the political challenge ahead in the congressional battle to pass gun legislation.
“There are some powerful voices on the other side who are interested in running out the clock, or changing the subject,” the president said, adding that “their assumption is that people will just forget about it.”
If that happens, Obama said, then “shame on us if we’ve forgotten.”
CNN’s Dana Bash, Jessica Yellin, Ted Barrett, Brianna Keilar, Paul Steinhauser, and Lesa Jansen contributed to this report.